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Hunter Indicted for Spending Campaign Funds; Trump Comments on Cohen Pleading Guilty; Autopsy on Found Iowa Student. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired August 22, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:31:52] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: More breaking news this morning.

A Republican congressman and his wife indicted on charges that they funded a lavish lifestyle with campaign donations. According to prosecutors, Congressman Duncan Hunter of California and his wife Margaret lived large, enjoying -- look at this -- a $14,000 Thanksgiving vacation to Italy, a $6,500 Hawaiian vacation, over $11,000 in personal purchases at Costco, $5,700 spent on themselves and their kids at Walmart, $2,000 on tickets for a family member to go to a Steelers game. And the list goes on.

This is despite warnings from the congressman's own treasurer to stop the personal campaign spending with campaign donations. Hunter was a founding member of the Trump caucus during the 2016 campaign. How is he responding this morning? What happens now?

Let's go to my colleague, Suzanne Malveaux. She joins me on The Hill.

You know, a while ago, when this started percolating before this indictment was unsealed, he told a local TV station in San Diego, yes, there was wrong campaign spending, but it wasn't done by me. So now what do we know?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know, Poppy, that as you mentioned before, he's part of this Trump caucus. Those were the very early members of Congress who decided to back Trump in his campaign. Well, now he joins this exclusive club. It was Chris Collins of New York just recently also facing federal charges. Well now he and his wife, Duncan Hunter and his wife are facing these massive charges. They're going to be arraigned tomorrow in San Diego, in the district in which he represents.

I want to go through some of these. You're talking about wire fraud. You're talking about conspiracy, campaign violations, as well as numerous other charges here for that lavish spending, that lifestyle that you had talked about, all using the campaign funds for these personal expenses and also trying to hide them in reporting. One of the examples, Poppy, saying that they went to a golf course and bought some personal clothing at this golf course, instead saying, well, these were golf balls that we're purchasing for the veterans group, the Wounded Warriors. Those are the kinds of things that they are facing.

Now, so far what he has done in his response is through a spokesman say, look, that this is all a politically motivated, that it is very close to the midterm elections. They point to a letter that was given to the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein saying that at least two of the prosecutors had attended a Hillary Clinton fundraiser, therefore should be recused. That was thrown out. And it should also be noted as well that it was an attorney, a U.S. attorney, appointed by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who brought about this indictment here. So there's the back and forth over whether or not this is really politically motivated.

But he is facing a crisis situation here.


MALVEAUX: The arraignment and it's too late, according to California law necessarily to take him off the ballot. So Democrats are looking at that seat, looking at it very carefully as potentially one that they will be able to target.

HARLOW: Right.

In a pretty safe district, California 50, but who knows, right, given -- given these -- given these charges.

All right, Suzanne, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

[09:34:54] Ahead for us, shades of Watergate? Will the Manafort and Cohen guilty plea and verdict be enough for Republicans to turn on the president? We're going to dive into the politics ahead.


HARLOW: All right, the president's former campaign chairman and personal attorney convicted felons now. But so far Republicans on The Hill, pretty mum. Most saying they want a read in to get more details.

Phil Mattingly reporting this morning, expect them to dodge the issue entirely or make the point that this has nothing to do with Russia.

Let's talk about this. With me, our senior political analyst Mark Preston. Also with me, John Avlon, senior political analyst, another senior title and anchor here at CNN.

Nice to have you both.

I'm a little flustered because like a second before I came back on they said the president tweeted again. So I'm trying to read that and intro you. So let me read that to you and get your response. The president just tweeted, quote, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to two counts of campaign finance violation that are not a crime. President Obama had a big campaign finance violation and it was easily settled.


in the Southern District of New York thought otherwise, that it, in fact, was a crime that Michael Cohen did engage in these hush payments to try to help President Trump's campaign. I mean that's a fact.

[09:40:14] And what we're seeing from President Trump right now is -- it seems to be that he's sending a message, right? He's sending a message to Paul Manafort in his tweets of support and understanding. But Paul Manafort hasn't worked with federal prosecutors at all. He refuses to cooperate. That's good for Donald Trump. Michael Cohen, on the other hand, has decided to cooperate. That's bad for Donald Trump.

HARLOW: I mean he also, John Avlon, just said that what Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to is not a crime. If it were not a crime, Michael Cohen would not be facing years in prison.


HARLOW: So there's that.

AVLON: So there's that, which is reality challenged.

HARLOW: Well, but at the same time, if you ascribe to the precedent, not law but at least the precedent that a sitting president can't be indicted, this is, for the president, a political matter, and for the Congress it's a political matter. So has the appetite among any Republicans this morning, for any sort of articles of impeachment, if they deem it worthy, changed?

AVLON: Well, they're clearly playing duck-and-cover to date. I'm not sure there's a ton more they need to get red in. We already know, as of yesterday, that the heads of this bipartisan Senate Intel Committee, Warner and Burr, said that we're going to talk to Cohen again.


AVLON: And he and his attorney have said there's more information to be had. So that could be a direct connection to the Russia investigation. We don't know yet.


AVLON: What we do know is, he named the president. He said that he committed a campaign finance violation, a fairly serious one, with the intent of affecting the outcome of an election with -- at the president's -- the now president's direction. That's a big deal. There's only one other president in recent memory who's been named an unindicted co-conspirator, and that's Richard Nixon.


AVLON: So you can try to spin your way out of this one and look for all sorts of comps and silver lingings and clearly he's floating the possibility of a pardon, and that's a big deal for Manafort. But the fact that Cohen says he has no interest in it, that, as Mark said, is bad news for the president no matter how much you try to spin it.

HARLOW: Mark, what about, again to my question about Republicans and the appetite and if anything has changed in their calculus, Republicans in Congress in the last 24 hours. We're reminded of Senator Lindsey Graham back in 1999. Here he was.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The point I'm trying to make is, you don't even have to be convicted of a crime to lose your job in this constitutional republic if this body determines that your conduct as a public official is clearly out of bounds in your role. Impeachment is not about punishment. Impeachment is about cleansing the office. Impeachment is about restoring honor and integrity to the office.


HARLOW: All right, Mark, and John. Mark first.

AVLON: Classic.

PRESTON: Well, a couple things. One is, in many ways -- I don't agree with everything that Lindsey Graham said there, but he is right. I mean if Donald Trump or any president were to be impeached by the House of Representatives, the Senate could convict and the president is out. That's the way our Constitution works at this point.

But as far as how Republicans are dealing with this at this time, it's not even been 24 hours, right? It's been a little more than 17 hours since these two cases have -- really have crashed into one another and really have shaken up the political world. But to really think about it and put it in perspective at this point, they want nothing to do with it. Republicans want to try to step away from this. There's no loyalty in politics. They are focused on the midterm elections. What they say now could be entirely different than what happens after November.


AVLON: Yes, that's possible. And as Mark says, there's no loyalty in politics, but there certainly is fear. And that has kept a lot of Republicans corralled in the line because they've been, frankly, afraid of their base, which is lopsided support of Donald Trump almost whatever he does.

But what happened yesterday is unprecedented. You know, for a campaign chairman and a president's lawyer to both become convicted felons within a matter of minutes is unprecedented.

And the reason I think the Lindsey Graham quote is so useful is, first of all, it imposes some perspective, but it pushes back on this tide of situational ethics we deal with. Imagine for one second that Hillary Clinton was in the exact same position. Every Republican would be standing from the rooftops shouting for convictions and impeachment. And you'd like to think there's at least enough shred of decency left in our elected representatives that they'd hold the same -- politicians of different parties to the same standard.

HARLOW: So, guys, Drudge, this morning, right, conservative website Drudge. Let me pull up how it is playing this, because I think it's telling. The headline there, "Trump's Hell Hour."

Mark, I mean, I just keep coming back to this question of, did the last 17 hours change anything? If Helsinki, if nothing -- you know, "Access Hollywood" tape, whatever, nothing has moved the needle, does this or no?

PRESTON: Well, you know, when this all happened yesterday, I have to be honest with you, I've been so desensitized to it all, I really kind of just brushed it off. It did take me a little time, about a half hour or so, really to absorb what was happening, and what was happening to our country.

[09:45:01] Is it going to move the needle? You know, I go back to something that I would say -- that I was saying about a year ago is that this is just another straw on the camel's back. This just happens to be a very, very heavy straw. And, quite frankly, it is now putting Congress in a position where Congress has to act, not just investigate, but they have to do more than investigate, they have to go a little bit further than where they are now.

HARLOW: What do you think, John? I mean the -- if we're sitting -- a month from now we're sitting here, what's different?

AVLON: Well, I think the legal process is moving forward. A month from now, Paul Manafort's second trial will begin in a federal court.


AVLON: You know, the gears of justice are working their way and they're impervious to public opinion. And a lot of the strategy has been playing to the court of public opinion and benefitting from polarization and the artificial, you know, comfort that can give to folks who may be nationally unpopular, but partisan -- popular within partisan circles, like the president.

But the legal process is going to move forward and that's why Paul Manafort hasn't been speaking. He's got a job to do. And that's going to be tough to spin your way out of if it comes to that.

Is impeachment ultimately a political process? Yes. But the standards put out -- this is not simply a campaign finance violation. This is a campaign finance violation that the person who just pled guilty said was done with the intention of affecting the outcome of the election at the direction of the man who is now president.

HARLOW: Again, that's an allegation by someone who's got some credibility issues.

AVLON: Sure.

HARLOW: So we'll see where that goes.

Gentlemen --

AVLON: And has pled guilty.

HARLOW: Thank you. Mark and John, nice to have you.

Ahead for us, a very important and sad story out of Iowa that we're following. How did Mollie Tibbetts die? Investigators hope they will get answers today, one day after an undocumented immigrant was charged in her murder.


[09:51:03] HARLOW: An Iowa community is grieving this morning after the body of what is believed to be 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was found in a corn field. An autopsy will be performed later to confirm how and when she died. Authorities spent a month searching for her. While they have yet to confirm the body is Tibbetts, police arrested Cristhian Rivera on first degree murder charges. You see him there. He is an undocumented immigrant. He confessed to approaching Tibbetts after he saw her running. He told investigators he, in his words, pursued her and then abducted her.

The grizzly news crushed the hopes of family and friends and local authorities who had scoured the small town for weeks looking for her. She was studying psychology at the University of Iowa and has been missing since she left on July 18th for a run in the evening from her boyfriend's house.

Let's go to Ryan Young. He is in Iowa for us following this this morning.

What can you tell us about what the authorities are saying and also just how that community is responding?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Poppy, this is just so very tough. We talked about this last night. And you can see the reaction throughout this community. We met a young lady last night who had to take her poster down and she almost started crying with us saying she can't believe that Mollie's gone. So you understand just the emotion here.

This is the headline. I think it pretty much sums it up for a lot of people here. It just says the word here -- murder. And so you can understand the pains.

Look, she used to run cross-country. She was running through an area and, according to investigators, they got video from a homeowner. The video was detailed enough for them to watch some of this happen. And, in fact, they went back and that's how they developed the suspect.

But from what we're told, that homeowner's video had the black car go by. And Mollie was also running by. And what they described to us, Cristhian Rivera actually tells investigators that he was driving along. He had circled back a few times and then was riding alongside Mollie. He then gets out and was running alongside of her. And she said that she was going to call 911. He tells investigators that he blacked out and from there he doesn't

know what happened next. But we know from the affidavit that he ended up putting her in the trunk. We're not sure what happened next after that, but we do know he eventually took her to a corn field where he put corn stalks on top of her to try to conceal the body.

So there's so many questions in this area because they want to know what happened to her? Why would he attack her? We want to know the motive.

And I want you to watch this video. This was yesterday at the news conference where we saw friends gathering here who were so very upset. This was a very painful moment, Poppy. Something that will stand out to a lot of our memories because you could hear people sobbing as investigators were talking about the details of this case, the idea that this young lady could be running and someone just attack her. And that big question is just why. Why would someone, Cristhian Rivera, apparently, according to investigators, attack this woman? And, of course, at this point there's so many questions more.

And there is a court appearance today at 1:00, as well.

HARLOW: You know, as we wait for that and as we look at the pain on the faces of all of those who loved her, who knew her in this small community, we're learning some new details about who employed Rivera, right? He was an undocumented immigrant. And who hired him?

YOUNG: Yes, that is a good point there. He apparently worked at a dairy farm. And investigators say he's been in this area for four to seven years. He kept a very small footprint. But Craig Lang (ph), who's a prominent Republican in this area, apparently employed him. And so that is the point right now where a lot of people are trying to figure out exactly what happens next and what was his documentation? A lot of questions in this community.

HARLOW: Right. I think he said he cleared through the government e- verify system, but a lot of questions about how that could happen.

Ryan, thank you. We'll talk to you next hour for more.

Ahead for us, the White House's new strategy, to discredit the man who once said he would take a bullet for the president, this just hours after Michael Cohen implicates the president in federal court. We are following all of it.


[09:59:15] HARLOW: All right, residents in Hawaii right now are bracing as, look at this, this category five hurricane is making its way towards the Hawaiian islands. It's called Hurricane Lane and it is packing sustained winds of 160 miles an hour. Officials say the big island of Hawaii could start to feel the effects of the storm later today. Only four named storms, two hurricanes, two tropical storms, have made landfall in Hawaii, though, since 1959. We'll keep a close eye on this one. Also new details now on the passing of legendary singer Aretha

Franklin. We've learned that the queen of soul had no will or trust when she died last week. Her four sons have filed documents listing themselves and interested parties. The matter will be settled by a probate court. She will be laid to rest and honored on August 31st at Wood Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.

[10:00:07] All right, top of the hour. Let's get started. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

Two of the president's right-hand men this morning are felons. But this morning